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The Artist's Way

A group of artists in Minnesota begin a path to take seriously their desire

This summer, a group of friends from the St. Paul, Minnesota School of Community worked on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

The group formed when Chad, a landscape architect, and Andrew, a middle school teacher, discovered that they both intended to work through the course. Derian, a software engineer, threw in his lot, and Chad invited me to join them after a discussion at School of Community drew my interest. We were discussing a passage from chapter two of Is There Hope? There, Fr. Julián Carrón writes:

We are like a boat longing for the sea; it cannot fail to expect it because this longing is constitutive, and yet it fears it. Here, then, is the battle: either to respond to the longing for the sea, the hunger for a life full of meaning, or to withdraw, settle, and choose not to risk, out of fear of unforeseeable possibilities.

Andrew described a picnic he had been on with his wife. Looking at the landscape before them, he had let out an involuntary sigh of longing. When his wife looked at him quizzically, he told us, “There was no denying that I had just made a wistful sound.” But in answering her look, he faced the decision of owning up to the longing provoked by this moment of beauty, or excusing himself somehow to preserve the conventional tone of relaxation.

We recognized that responding honestly to beauty often provokes resentment in ourselves and others. The questions often arise: What gives you permission to take your desire so seriously? Are you an exception?

Halfway through the course, our friend Brittany joined us. Welcoming another participant made the change that had already begun in us apparent. I saw that we had stopped apologizing for the longing Andrew described at that School of Community meeting. We had grown in hope that rather than being an absurdity, our desire told us something true about reality and about our destiny. It began to change the way we created things.

My desire to create often turned into what Fr. Carrón calls "activism": an attempt to make something of myself, or to redeem seemingly futile thoughts and feelings from fleeting, private experiences. My artistic sense was expressed as despair: I feared that if I did not immortalize beauty in poetry it would die. As a result of the work we’ve done together, I no longer force my experiences into writing in a desperate attempt to save them from nothingness, as if these experiences were meaningless in themselves and only my artistic effort could redeem them. Instead, I now begin from the confidence that meaning and beauty are given to me every day, whether I see them or not.

The compassionate gaze of my friends on my life has convinced me that this is true. They see meaning and beauty that exceeds my ability to express it—meaning and beauty that are given in life and not produced by my writing. I am moved by the beauty that is given, and by the risk the Creator takes in giving with no guarantee of response.

My work has become an act of responding to the gift already given. In this renewed hope that everything does matter, that everything is for me, I have found the freedom to “respond to the longing for the sea.”

Maddy, St. Paul, MN


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